Do College Athletes Finally Deserve Pay?

Last year, the University of Alabama paid its head football coach, Nick Saban, over $7 million.

Legendary Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski made over $7 million last year as well.

Those salaries are already astounding to the average American, but $7 million is nothing compared to how much money the NCAA makes from selling broadcasting rights to its sporting events.

In 2010, the NCAA made a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal with CBS/Turner for the rights to the Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament (also known as March Madness). More recently, the NCAA and CBS/Turner extended the deal by another 8 years for an additional $8.8 billion.

But what about the players? Without the players, coaches wouldn’t have anyone to coach, and the NCAA wouldn’t have a wildly entertaining product to shop to TV networks. Athletes are arguably more important to this industry than anyone else. And yet, players don’t get paid a penny for their efforts.

Do college athletes finally deserve pay?

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The Case Against

Those who oppose paying college athletes make the case that colleges are already paying athletes in the form of scholarships.

Then there’s also the fact that setting up a system to pay student athletes would be a logistical nightmare.

Colleges must abide by Title IX if they want to receive federal funding, which means they must treat both genders equally. Women’s sports don’t bring as much money as men’s sports, so logically it follows that female student athletes should generally be paid less than male student athletes, but doing so has bad optics and could even trigger a lawsuit invoking Title IX.

Even if you ignore the issue of gender discrimination, where exactly do you draw the line between players that deserve money and players that don’t?

College football stars like Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel obviously generated a lot of revenue for their schools, and third-string benchwarmers on the lacrosse team obviously don’t generate anything at all. But there are players between those two extremes who aren’t household names but do contribute to high-profile, revenue-raising teams. It would be difficult to design a system that properly addresses this complicated situation and treats all players fairly.

The Case For

Logistics aside, allowing student athletes to be paid is the moral thing to do.

Sure, the scholarships are a nice perk, considering that the average cost of in-state tuition and fees at a US public university has risen to $9,410/year. Reducing or eliminating that cost for skilled athletes does allow many people to go to college who wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

But that should only be the start. $10k a year being indirectly paid to players is downright offensive when you consider that dozens of coaches are paid over a hundred times that.

It brings to mind the many, many fights that have been waged over the course of American history to prevent workers from being exploited. The players practice, train, and perform endlessly. They put the product on the field, and the NCAA makes billions of dollars a year off that product. To deny the athletes a decent share of this revenue is nothing short of exploitation.

The Final Word

College stars deserve to be paid. They make their schools a lot of money and they should get a piece of that pie.

But most college athletes are not stars. They’re not going to get nor do they expect a multimillion dollar pro sports contract (only 1.9% of college football players and 12.2% of men’s college basketball players make it to the pros). They’re students first and athletes second. Most of these players don’t do much to help their schools generate revenue, and therefore they don’t deserve much more than a scholarship.

It would indeed take a lot of time and effort to figure out the right system for compensating athletes.

A sort of sliding scale could be used, with relatively large amounts being paid to athletes who start games that are broadcast nationwide on major TV networks like ABC and CBS and smaller amounts doled out to athletes who make appearances on more niche networks like ESPN3 and regional stations.

Or perhaps instead of paying players directly, the NCAA could allow athletes to charge for autographs and sign endorsement deals (these practices are currently prohibited) and let the free market determine how much money college players are worth.

However it happens, one thing is for sure: the absolute ban on paying college athletes must come to an end.

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